Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday used an unconventional method to announce a sweeping public safety plan that includes reinstating the death penalty in Illinois.
Rauner says the “worst of the worst” – a group he referred to as “mass murderers and cop killers” – “deserve to have their lives taken.”
Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, and last executed someone in 1999.
Rather than introduce the plan on its own, where such a major change would undergo thorough vetting through the regular legislative process, Rauner used his amendatory veto pen to essentially rewrite a gun control measure (House Bill 1468) that would have instituted a 72-hour waiting period on the purchase of certain guns.
In his rewrite, Rauner extends that hold to all gun purchases in Illinois.
His multitiered amendatory veto likewise calls for developing a mechanism to have police temporarily confiscate a firearm from someone deemed by the courts to be a danger to himself or others, requires prosecutors and judges to give written reasons if someone charged with a gun crime is sentenced or pleas to a lesser offense, and bans bump stocks.
Rauner’s flexing of his amendatory veto muscle may in itself doom the changes.
Courts have determined that while a governor can make more than mere technical changes, the amendatory veto power has a limited scope, and cannot be used to propose a completely new bill, expansively change legislation or change its purpose.
“The House has for decades had a process where amendatory vetoes are reviewed to deter whether they comply with the constitution,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner’s political nemesis. “I’m not certain what (the death penalty) necessarily has to do with gun violence or guns.”
Should Madigan determine that Rauner’s plan is too broad, legislators may never have the chance to vote on it – killing both Rauner’s package and the underlying measure to put a hold on gun purchases.
Rauner, who is running for re-election, may then be able to argue to voters that he has attempted to take action on violence while blaming Madigan for bottling up his plan.
Just before his narrow primary win, Rauner vetoed a separate measure that would have required local gun dealers be licensed by the state. Advocates claim that will limit guns from getting into criminals’ hands via straw purchasers. The assault weapons waiting period measure put him in another tough spot politically.
By proposing such a drastic measure, Rauner has moved the conversation from that topic and grabbed headlines with a tough-on-crime capital punishment stance that is thought to appeal to voters.
Aside from the politics at hand, the provisions within Rauner’s plan are materially contentious.
“The death penalty should never be used as a political tool to advance one’s agenda. Doing so is in large part why we had so many problems and overturned convictions. That’s why we had bipartisan support to abolish capital punishment,” Senate President John Cullerton said in a statement. “I’ve seen nothing from today’s announcement to suggest that lesson has been learned.”
Legislators are now left with several options: A supermajority of lawmakers from both chambers must vote to either accept Rauner’s plan, or to override his changes.
Should they do neither, both the governor’s package and the original, underlying bill both die.
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